In Megève, the 3-star chef delivers an inventive, playful cuisine that is deeply rooted in his terroir.
In the mountains, he is home. From early childhood, Emmanuel Renaut, chef at the ‘Flocons de Sel’ in Megève, would leave the plains of Picardy to spend every holiday in the French Alps. This wasn’t to be just a case of fond holiday memories either. This primal passion for the mountains would see him join the French Mountain Infantry as a Chasseur Alpin, when he came of age. So opening his restaurant in Megève in 1998, was a natural step.
The path between these two waymarkers — childhood and professional accomplishment — has been long. Punctuated by multiple apprenticeships and learning experiences along the way. Ten years prior to Megève, after finishing his training, he worked at several establishments in Paris before achieving one of his earliest goals: to cook at the ‘Hôtel de Crillon’ on the Place de la Concorde, under the leadership of Chef Christian Constant. He was only there for a year, however, as commis chef — a good year at that, he says — before being quickly spotted by chef Marc Veyrat, a champion of the reinvented “cuisine paysanne” (rustic cuisine).
You mightn’t have blamed Emmanuel Renaut for thinking twice, since it was only a seasonal role, but the call of his childhood mountains was too strong. It was written in the stars. They continued the journey together at the ‘Auberge de l’Eridan’, on the shores of Lake Annecy, right up to Marc Veyrat obtaining his third Michelin star after appointing him as sous chef. Next came ‘Claridges’, in London, and by now international acclaim. Emmanuel Renaut rolled the dice. He took a chance and entered the Taittinger International Culinary Prize, and won third place.
And from there, his dreams of his own restaurant began to blossom. Almost by chance, he found a pizzeria for takeover, located in the historic centre of Megève. Is was there that Emmanuel Renaut and wife, Kristine, set up Flocons de Sel, before moving it a few years later to the site of a former inn, that had been completely burned down a few years prior. The couple rebuilt the new Flocons de Sel on the site, in conjunction with a hotel operation, which opened in 2008. There, amidst his beloved mountains, Emmanuel Renaut chalked off every step in a chef’s ascent, from winning the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (Best Craftsman in France) to securing his first Michelin star. He now has three, which he has held since 2012.
His style of cooking is deeply entrenched in his terroir, in his mountains and the produce to be found there with the coming and going of the seasons. It is for this reason that his creations are sometimes compared to those of Alain Passard, the chef-cum-gardener who is also an advocate of following the seasons and serving home-grown produce.
Emmanuel Renaut has his own chickens, beehives, makes his own bread, only uses milk from the Arly Valley in his preparations… In Summer, he likes to cook Féra du Léman trout, which he does extremely naturally, baking it in salt, and serving it with a hogweed jus, a plant that is frequently ignored lining the verges. It brings the subtlety of a citrus sauce to this simple dish. He pairs another star of the lake — crayfish — with a milk of Meadowsweet, a very common flower, but one which makes a wonderful accompaniment with its flavours of aniseed and almond.
The former Mountain Infantryman has become an Alpine guide, pointing out all the hidden treasures available to eat there. And like these “weeds”, Emmanuel Renaut also gives the humble celery, from his own garden, the recognition it deserves, which outdoes itself in a risotto. In it, its delicate sweetness stands face-to-face with the rustic power of a Beaufort cheese, flavoured by the herbs and flowers ingested by the Alpine cows grazing all Spring and Summer long. And if you want to take the experience to the next level, the chef suggests topping it off with “a salt-cured egg yolk, dried and grated” onto the risotto. To die for.
In hunting season, venison takes centre stage. It is served roasted, with a beautiful cardinal shallot and beetroot purée, “a mushroom tartlet, onions and truffle, as well as a blackberry coulis”. The delicate, fine flesh of the game — delicious without being overpowering — reveals a different side as it combines with the sweet flavours of the vegetables and the hint of acidity brought by the fruit. Again, this is the Haute-Savoie terroir on a plate. A dish that appears so simple, yet offers such rare aromatic complexity. We love, we taste, and we will definitely go back. To ‘Flocons de Sel’, or to ‘Flocons Village’, the former pizzeria that has now become a bistro and inn, the chef’s second restaurant. The circle is (almost) complete.